Driven: Ford Ranger, off-road.

Jonny Edge puts the Ford Ranger to the test to see if it’s capable of taking you over the fields and far away…

Manufacturers love to tell us about how tough their pick-up trucks are. You always see them looking about as capable as a Challenger 2, scaling rocky mountain sides or wading through deep water in glamorous press images. It’s not everyday you actually get to put a machine like this to the test though, after all, unless you own a lot of land or are happy to pay for tuition at a dedicated centre, you don’t get the chance to actually drive a pick-up through the terrain that manufacturers tell you it is designed to conquer.

This winter I did get the chance, however, at a Ford commercial vehicle event where there was a lot to learn about the Ford Ranger’s abilities - as well as my own – and a preview of the very soon to be launched ‘Raptor’ variant.

Driving over off-road terrain is a piece of cake if it’s just a field or some rocks, but if you need to traverse a narrow path, deep water or steep incline it’s a bit trickier. Like racing a car on circuit, driving competently off-road is something that requires a certain level of knowledge. You need to know where to apply the throttle and how firmly, when to turn and how to use the systems at your disposal. Like any serious pick-up truck, the Ford Ranger boasts all-wheel drive and a low-ratio setting for the gearbox to help you get through the really challenging stuff, as well as the ability to switch from 2 to all-wheel drive.

We took on a challenging off-road course that involved driving through churned up muddy field tracks, through streams, across a shallow pond and through tricky tight tree-lined tracks with inclines and thick, deep mud. Tyres obviously play a crucial part in any vehicle, but Ford had only equipped standard road tyres to the Ranger, making what it did next all the more impressive.

It was easy. The steering was light, the 2.0-litre diesel engine responsive and the process of switching from high to low ratio simple and quick. Despite being almost 5.3-metres long and almost 1.9-metres wide, the Ranger could be guided around the tight course with not too much effort and even down the stream, following the course of the water. Impressively, we also managed to stop the pick-up halfway up a very steep muddy incline, engage the handbrake and do a hill start while facing the sky, in a position that felt similar to that of an astronaut prior to a take-off. There really wasn’t anything it struggled with.

Whether it would have been easy without the off-road instructor to guide my inputs is hard to say, but if you’re the type of person who – unlike myself – knows what they’re doing off-road, I suspect you won’t have any difficulty travelling off-road, particularly if you’ve gone for specialist off-road tyres. The 2.0-litre 157bhp diesel with its 385Nm of torque felt like it had all the power you’d need for anything adventurous, though if you have particularly heavy loads to move or tow, then there is a more powerful 3.2-litre 5-cylinder available to order.

If you want something a bit sporty, Ford has now got you covered in this department too. A sporty pick-up? It sounds crazy, but the ‘Raptor’ will soon be available to order here at Synergy, complete with a 207bhp twin-turbo version of the 2.0-litre engine and a 10 – yes, ten – speed automatic gearbox. The Raptor’s party trick is its ability to go off-road at speed, with suspension designed to cope with really tough, demanding performance levels tuned to get better with greater speed.

So, overall a thorough demonstration of the capabilities Ford likes to boast about and rather easy to see why the Ranger has proven so popular since Land Rover retired the Defender. This vehicle has turned out to be the darling of those who work where the roads don’t go, and from what I’ve seen it really does have the capacity to take you over the hills and far away.